Updated: Jan 14, 2022
Students boycotted social events last night in protest of the wave of spiking incidents reported in towns and cities across the UK.
Wednesday evening saw sports clubs including Rugby and Cricket, student groups including Kate Kennedy and Catwalk, and societies including Campus Safety forgo drinking venues, socials, and house parties. The Union closed its premises in support.
The boycott initiative originated in Edinburgh — where it was called “Girls Night In” — and quickly spread via Instagram to campuses and cities around the UK. St Andrews Feminist Society, who organised the boycott in St Andrews, decided to rename the boycott “Big Night In” for two reasons: firstly, to “emphasise the fact that... all gender identities are vulnerable” to drink spiking, and secondly, to ‘highlight the importance of all genders... participating in the boycott.”
As well as the boycott, there was a Town Hall held in 601, where individuals could ask questions of local representatives concerning spiking and plans for combative action. Willie Rennie, MSP for North East Fife and former Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and Wendy Chamberlain MP, attended alongside the Proctor and representatives from the Union, local venues, and the police.
Commenting on what she hoped “Big Night In” St Andrews would achieve, Sophia Brousset, president of St Andrews Feminist Society, said: “The primary goal is for all of these representatives to realise that there is a huge concern about spiking, especially amongst women, and that, until something is done about it, we will not feel safe on nights out.
“Spiking cases seem to be going up in the UK and with [reports of] new, more nefarious methods like injection spiking, we are very concerned about whether these venues, student societies that host house parties, and student groups that put on events like fashion shows, balls, and DJ collectives are equipped to deal with the issue.
“We want those parties which we have addressed to really consider our demands.”
The demands made by “Big Night In” St Andrews are accessible via a link on their Instagram page @bignightinstandrews, which at the time of writing, has gained 810 followers within three days. These demands include increased security, such as random bag searches upon entry within venues; the enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy towards perpetrators of spiking by the University, and ‒ to the UK and Scottish governments ‒ an “emergency and sustained plan” for combatting spiking.
According to figures from UK police forces, drinks spiking had more than doubled in the period from 2015 to 2018. The Alcohol Education Trust has reported an “anecdotal rise in cases of spiking in places that don’t have CCTV or security staff.” Its CEO Helena Conibear branded the rise in spiking as an “epidemic”, but pointed out that a person is just as likely to get spiked in a private place, such as at a house party, as at a nightclub.
“The mantra is any drink, any place, to anybody,” she said.
In response, the Union has introduced a raft of new measures to help counter spiking. These include conducting random bag searches as people enter the Union, regularly testing any unattended drinks (as well as testing drinks on request), working towards Good Night Out Accreditation, and reporting those found to be spiking on the premises to the University and the Police. A referral for spiking can result in the termination of a person’s studies and a prison sentence.
When asked by this publication what reassurances of safety students should take from the Union, Anna-Ruth Cockerham, the director of wellbeing and equality, said: “The Union is a student-led venue and our main focus is students and their safety and protection. That's something all of us work towards and we’re also very receptive to feedback.
“It might provide reassurance to have an understanding of the prevalence of spiking in St Andrews. We only have a slight increase in the number of reports of spiking in St Andrews, and have no reports of spiking by injection to the University or the Students’ Association.”
Spiking by injection has been reported across numerous UK cities, including in Dundee, where police are probing a report of a woman being spiked by injection at Captain’s Cabin on Saturday, 16 October.
In Nottingham, police are investigating 15 reports of spiking by injection, the first of which was made on 2 October, according to the BBC. Victims of alleged spiking by injection claim to have woken up the next morning (in some cases in hospital after having unexpectedly blacked out the night before) and found a pinprick wound on their person. Nottinghamshire Police claim that in one case an injury was sustained that “could be consistent with a needle”.
Some experts are cynical of claims of spiking by injection. David Caldicott, founder of drug testing project WEDINOS, said: “The technical and medical knowledge required to perform such injections make this deeply improbable.
“It’s really hard to stick a needle in someone without them noticing, especially if you have to keep the needle in there for long enough, maybe 20 seconds, to inject enough drugs to cause this.
“It’s entirely possible that this is some stupid fad of sticking needles into people, but the association between sticking needles into people and people being intoxicated and collapsing seems far-fetched at the moment.”
Speaking on Twitter, Sophia Smith Galer, investigating for Vice World News, said that despite “un-investigated” and “unverified” reports of spiking-injection crime: “Let’s not... forget about the universality of where spiking threats come from, and the work needed to tackle spiking everywhere, ‘injected’, drunk or however else consumed.”
“Big Night In” St Andrews stated that spiking was a “symptom of larger problems of a patriarchal society”, and that the narrative had to be “changed from that of ‘don’t get spiked’ to ‘don’t spike’”.
At the time of writing, boycotts of venues in over 30 UK towns and cities have taken or will take place, and a petition to “Make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry” has gained over 165,000 signatures.